Monthly Archives: February 2013

Greater Manchester Police and Manchester City Council have issued advice to the city’s residents ahead of a planned demonstration by the English Defence League on Saturday 2nd March, to ensure the protest “causes the minimum of disruption to all members of the community”.

The advice issued stipulates:

  • The city is open for business as usual, although we do accept that there could be some disruption to traffic in the Albert Square area
  • We urge you to ignore all elements of this protest
  • We would reassure you that violence will not be tolerated and action will be taken against anyone who breaks the law
  • The police are there to prevent disorder and ensure everyone in our community is protected
  • We urge the community not to take the law into their own hands
  • Anyone who is subjected to any kind of abuse or violence should report it to police immediately

The EDL last demonstrated in Manchester in 2009 when 48 people were arrested and at estimated cost to the city council of £800,000.

Former CIA officer, Valerie Plame, and US diplomat, Joe Wilson, in a guest column in The Guardian today reflect on the ‘dodgy dossier’ and the Bush Administration’s claims of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ which prompted the US-led invasion of Iraq ten years ago.

Noting the dissonance between what CIA intelligence revealed and the claims made by Bush officials, Plame and Wilson observe:

“…nearly 60% of Americans now [say] that the Iraq war was a mistake; more than 70% of the British public agree. We owe it to ourselves and to our partners in the “coalition of the willing” to confront the fact that, when it mattered a decade ago, our Congress, our press, and we as citizens were not vigilant enough in holding our government to account for its statements and actions.

“We did not do nearly enough to prevent this tragedy perpetrated on Iraq, on the world, and on ourselves.”

The UK’s own inquiry into the events which led to the invasion of Iraq, the Chilcot Inquiry, is yet to release its final report amid accusations that key documents have been withheld from the Inquiry on security grounds.

BBC News reports on the detection of horse DNA in halal burgers supplied to schools in Lancashire.

From BBC News:

“Frozen beef products have been withdrawn from schools in Lancashire after horse DNA was found in halal beef burgers.

“Earlier in February, Food Standards Agency tests found horsemeat in cottage pies delivered to the county’s schools.

“Following that, the county council carried out tests and found horse DNA in halal burgers sent to four schools.

“Lancashire Council of Mosques said it was “disgusted” and it was considering calling a boycott of all school meals.

Hanif Dudhwala, of the Lancashire Council of Mosques, said: “We have no confidence whatsoever left in Lancashire County Council.

“We are absolutely shocked and disgusted by the revelations that have come out today.”

“A council spokesman said the “large majority” of products had tested negative but the cottage pies and halal beef burgers had tested positive.

“He said the burgers were only available to four schools, all of which had been “contacted and informed”.

Last week parents of pupils at Moseley School in Birmingham received an apology from the school’s headmaster after details emerged of non-halal food being served to Muslims at the school.

The Stationery Office has launched an iPad App for Hansard, making it even easier for iPad users to read transcripts of parliamentary debates online.

Details can be found at the App Store here.

BBC News reports on the sentencing of a man who viciously attacked a 16 year old girl last November, knocking her to the ground with a punch to the head.

Michael Ayoade, who has been sentenced to four years imprisonment, pleaded guilty to assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

BBC News reports that Ayoade “was caught on CCTV staging the random assaults.”

“Judge Roger Chapple said these were “vicious, unprovoked attacks on young, lone females”.

“The footage captures graphically the shocking violence of these attacks,” he added.

“In both cases the force of the blow was such as to render the victims unconscious albeit mercifully not for long.”

A video of the attack on the 16 year old in Plaistow can be viewed on Islamophobia Watch.

BBC News reports that police made four arrests during the English Defence League protest in Cambridge on Saturday while local paper, Cambridge News, details that a 56 year old man and 23 year old have been charged with “racially aggravated public order offence and assaulting a police officer” and “public order offence and criminal damage” respectively.

The other two arrests resulted in a 24-year-old man being fined for a public order offence and a 25-year-old man cautioned for a public order offence.

The local paper also reports that the far right social movement is planning to return to the city “in bigger numbers”.

“A spokesman for the group’s East Anglia Division told the News: “We are not thugs or extremists. We are the silent majority but we have been penned in like pigs while the police allow the lefties to march through the city.

“But we will be back in bigger numbers. The leaders are planning a national protest here in Cambridge. All we want to do is have a peaceful protest against a mosque that is not in keeping and will cause no end of traffic problems as it holds 1,000 but has just 80 parking spaces. We are not against Muslims. We are anti-Islam.”

The EDL spokesman’s claims are precisely those made by Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party, ahead of the general election in 2010 when he declared in a Radio 5 Live interview, “I’m not anti-Muslim, I’m anti-Islam’.”

Islamophobia Watch covers the trial of two women arrested for their part in a racially aggravated attack on a Kurdish family in Plymouth.

The women, who joined an English Defence League meeting earlier, were among a group of people who attacked the Kurdish family abusing them with taunts such as “go back to your own country” and “shouting “EDL” and further racist abuse”. The family has since moved away from the area.

The Plymouth Herald reports:

“Kelly Watterson admitted one count of affray and Hayley Wells admitted one count of religiously aggravated common assault on August 31, 2011.

“Wells told police in interview that she believed all Muslims were extremists and if she saw a woman in a burka it would make her angry.

“Wells was handed a three-month prison sentence suspended for two years under probation supervision. She must do 200 hours unpaid work and pay the victim £100 in compensation.

“Watterson was given a 12-month community order under probation supervision with 150 hours unpaid work. She must also pay £100 in compensation to the victim.”

The Huddersfield Examiner reports on the trial outcome of a woman arrested for an altercation involving an Asian man during the English Defence League protest in Dewsbury last June.

Kirklees magistrates’ court heard that the woman, Karen Marsden, “joined in offensive chanting as part of the EDL protest” and assaulted two police officers.

“The demo was a protest against alleged Muslim paedophiles and Marsden approached the Asian man with a leaflet and suddenly hit out at him.

“Marsden…was warned to expect jail but magistrates imposed an 18-month community order with a supervision requirement.

“She was ordered to pay £260 towards costs of £620. Magistrates rejected an application for an anti-social behaviour order.”

BBC News today covers news on the closing of Friday prayer facilities for Muslim students by City University in London.

The University claims to have locked the room used by Muslim students because students “had refused to submit the proposed content of sermons [khutbah] to the university before prayers to check its “appropriateness”,” according to the BBC.

Wasif Sheikh, who leads the group Muslim Voices on Campus, which is challenging City University’s decision told the BBC:

“We feel we are being unjustly targeted. All of our sermons are open, we welcome all students and all staff.

“But when you start submitting your sermons to be monitored and scrutinised then there’s a chance for it to be dictated what’s allowed and what’s not allowed. We, as students, don’t accept that.” “

The University’s conduct is bizarre to say the least given the report published by Universities UK on the issue of Freedom of Speech on Campus. In his foreword to the report, Professor Malcolm Grant, provost of UCL, noted, “Universities need…to ensure that potentially aberrant behaviour is challenged and communicated to the police where appropriate. But it is emphatically not their function to impede the exercise of fundamental freedoms, in particular freedom of speech, through additional censorship, surveillance or invasion of privacy.”

There have been many clamouring to attest to the role of university campuses in radicalization, see here, but an inquiry by the Home Affairs select committee into The Roots of Violent Radicalisation concluded:

“…the role of prisons and universities was less obvious. Much of the uncertainty relates to the fact that a number of convicted terrorists have attended prisons and universities, but there is seldom concrete evidence to confirm that this is where they were radicalised.”

“…we are concerned that too much focus in the Prevent Strategy is placed on public institutions such as universities, and that it may be more accurate, and less inflammatory, to describe them as places where radicalisation “may best be identified”. We consider that the emphasis on the role of universities by government departments is now disproportionate.”

Universities have found themselves caught in a game of political football with politicians enacting policies that variously call upon university staff to ‘spy’ on Muslim students and be trained to “recognise the signs of radicalisation”.

It is noteworthy that while the BBC reporter states the university’s defence of acting because it had not cleared sermon content prior to delivery, he makes no effort to include perspectives from the representative body for Muslim students on campus, FOSIS, or a body representing UK Universities, preferring instead to defer to the Quilliam Foundation. In an area of debate already polarized between ideologues and evidence-based analysis on the role of universities in radicalisation, the BBC’s oversight is not one to be dismissed lightly.

AC Grayling in the Independent dwells on the release yesterday of data concerning the number of faith schools that have applied for free school status.

Adumbrating the superior rationality of the humanist, Grayling critiques the capacity of faith schools to engage in teaching methods that teach a child “how to think, not what to think”.

Grayling refers to the faith schools “proselytis[ing] the young, knowing that this is by far the chief way that religious belief survives in the world.”

He goes on to talk of religious schooling as “child abuse” and argues, “note what “faith” means: it means believing without evidence or reason, and even in the face of contrary evidence.”

Grayling lays at the door of religion that well-rehearsed canard on sectarian strife writing, “This seems fighting talk to those who are unaware what a cost the world pays in the divisions, conflicts and antipathies generated by religion.”

It should come as no surprise to the good professor that the greatest loss of life in the two great wars of the twentieth century had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with mundane matters: power, security and wealth accumulation. Reasons which continue to animate conflicts to the present day.

Grayling concludes:

“Religion is the belief system of our remote ancestors who knew little about the universe, and made up stories to explain it to themselves. It is extraordinary that so many people still live by those stories, so manifestly inadequate as a resource for understanding the world and informing our moral lives.

“A young mind is a beautiful opportunity: receptive, curious, quick to soak up information and techniques; it is something to be treated with utmost respect, not twisted into shapes that conform to antique dogmas, but given every chance to grow and discover. That is what a free school should aim for: an education in intellectual autonomy.”

It is a great shame that Grayling cannot entertain the possibility that religious faith is something grounded in rationality and not in some absentminded adherence to rituals and practices that connote no meaning or significance to the believer.

The first verses revealed of the Qur’an and the exhortations throughout urging the reader to observe their environment and to be inquisitive of their nature and of the world around them could hardly be regarded as undermining “intellectual autonomy”. But perhaps no better a riposte to Grayling’s dismissive attitude to religion and its nurturing an inquisitive mind than Surah Al Baqarah, verse 256:

“Let there be no compulsion in religion, truth stands out clear from error”.